What is Inner Work? (& Why Most People Are Terrified By it)

May 13th, 2024

By Aletheia Luna

Guest writer for Wake Up World

Inner work is at the very core and foundation of the spiritual path.

Without it, we’re wasting our time.

There can be no purging, healing, transformation, and balanced awakening without inner work.

You want a meaningful path to follow? You want to leave a legacy of light and love? The most worthy path (in my opinion) is inner work. It complements, empowers, and enriches everything you do in life.

When you commit to inner work, you’re turning your pain into power like a true spiritual alchemist. Naturally, this inner work leads to creating authentic, bone-deep change in the world, little by little.

What could be better than healing, evolving, finding true joy and freedom, stepping into your power, living in harmony with others, and sending beautiful ripples of change out into existence?

But here’s the thing. Although inner work is such a worthy path, it is also a path we are secretly horrified by.

This subconscious fear that we have towards any form of inner exploration is universal. It’s something you’ll need to understand well if you’re a sincere spiritual seeker wanting to do the work.

What is Inner Work?

Inner work is the psychological practice of identifying and dissolving the contractions, and blockages that obscure your Inner Light for the purposes of self-awareness, healing, transformation, and expansion.

When we do inner work, we are shining the light of awareness onto our inner landscape which is composed of the various layers of our mind: the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious realms.

Your inner self consists of your hidden feelings, memories, thoughts, beliefs, prejudices, wounds, shadows, and other mental and emotional conditions that influence your ability to transform and feel Whole at a core level.

By doing inner work, little by little, you’ll be able to move past fears, limitations, addictions, depressions, and the feelings of unwholeness that tend to plague us as human beings.

Inner Work vs. Soul Work – What’s the Difference?

Inner work and Soul work fit together like the yin and yang, both equally enriching our spiritual journeys and working side-by-side harmoniously.

While Soul work is about listening to your Soul’s calling to surrender to Spirit, inner work is about making the space for that to happen. In this sense, inner work is the active or yang part of our spiritual path, and Soul work is the yin or passive part of our spiritual journeys.

Without the inner space that is created through inner work, it can be extremely difficult to get to a point of receptivity, humility, and openness to deeply resting in Spirit as our True NatureInner work helps to clear out the fog, cobwebs, and blockages that fill our minds, hearts, and bodies, permitting the Light of Consciousness to gradually shine brighter and brighter.

Like weeding an overgrown garden, inner work creates more inner space by helping us to uproot the old conditioned beliefs, stories, dogmas, and wounds that become embedded within us. And like cleaning a dirty mirror, inner work helps us to find more inner clarity, self-love, wholeness, and happiness.

While inner work still operates within the domain of the ego (unlike Soul work which takes us beyond the separate sense of self), it is an extremely important and crucial part of the spiritual path because it helps to create more psychological balance and harmony.

Without ongoing inner work, we can fall into many traps on the spiritual path causing lopsided growth that results in issues such as spiritual bypassing, nihilism, spiritual narcissismspiritual materialismtoxic positivity, and other psychospiritual issues that cause suffering to both ourselves and other people.

25 Signs You Need to Practice Inner Work

So do you need inner work? I’ve got to be frank here: that was a rhetorical question! If you’re a human being at any place in life’s journey, you’ll certainly need some degree of inner work. Nevertheless, here are some notorious signs that you need to practice inner work:

  1. You feel lost in life
  2. You don’t know who you are anymore
  3. You feel lonely and like an outsider looking in to the world
  4. You frequently get into fights with others
  5. You’re always people-pleasing
  6. You’re not confident being yourself
  7. You have low self-esteem
  8. Your thoughts are almost constantly negative and self-critical
  9. You feel constantly unmotivated and “flat”
  10. You’re going through a Dark Night of the Soul (or spiritual crisis)
  11. You suffer from chronic health issues
  12. You can’t sleep properly
  13. Life doesn’t feel real
  14. You feel a sense of hopelessness
  15. You feel a sense of emptiness
  16. You have fits of intense anger or sadness
  17. You believe that the world is against you
  18. You struggle to trust others (or yourself)
  19. You keep repeating the same mistakes
  20. You keep attracting the wrong people into your life
  21. You’re self-destructive and self-sabotaging
  22. You have a strong drive toward addiction
  23. You have many strong emotional triggers
  24. You struggle with high levels of anxiety or panic
  25. You want to be alone all the time or around others all the time (to escape yourself)

The more signs you can relate to, the higher degree of inner work you need to consider doing. We’ll explore some inner work paths below.

Of course, keep in mind that many of the above points are symptoms of mental illness. By all means, seek out a professional therapist who can help if you suspect something is lopsided in your noggin.

Inner work is not a replacement for any psychiatric/psychological targeted help. It is, however, a vital complementary practice that is just as essential as sleeping, exercising, or doing anything that genuinely helps you at a core level.

Why Most People Are Terrified By Inner Work

It may sound ridiculous. But the truth is that people feel repelled and horrified by inner work on an unconscious level.

Why and how is this the case?

Well just look at the world:

We’ve explored the solar system and distant galaxies more thoroughly than the depths of our own oceans. We know more about how things mechanically work rather than the life force that animates them. We know more about fighting and strategizing against the “enemies” outside of us than we know about facing the so-called enemies looming within us.

As psychologist Carl Jung once wrote:

People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.

The reality is that going deep terrifies us. We’ll more readily go to war and annihilate other people than look within ourselves for the source of our own suffering.

We’ll more readily point the finger of blame at others, life, god, or reality and adopt the victim mentality than dare to give ourselves a good honest look in the mirror. In some cases, we prefer to die in stubborn ignorance than admit we’re wrong, faulty, fooled, or responsible for our suffering and the pain of others.

Our egos are fragile, neurotic, and power-hungry little creatures. Inner work is like kryptonite to this fabricated ego-self we carry around. Is it any wonder that we’re terrified by it deep down?

Of course, many seekers who’ve undergone a spiritual awakening would give a sly smile at this point and say, “Well am different.” Well no … no you’re not. Sorry. But the reality is that you have an ego just like everyone else. And it’s time to face it.

The Unfathomable Power of Inner Work

Inner work may superficially look lavish, poetic, and mystical. But when you get into the heart of it, it’s often a bone-crushing, gut-wrenching journey of blood, sweat, vomit, and tears.

You aren’t playing with crystals and singing cute mantras while doing inner work (although those things can be complementary and help in their own way). Inner work isn’t Instagram-worthy or something you can wear as an egotistical badge of superiority.

Inner work, in its very essence, is about placing truth and the desire for freedom (Love) above all else. It’s about allowing yourself to be called out, torn down, burned, and built back up a thousand times over. Inner work is a process of eternal death and rebirth. It never stops – even after having attained a higher level of consciousness – for when one believes one has “arrived” that is when stagnation occurs. That is when spiritual narcissism thrives and the shadow rears its ugly face.

Inner work is cyclical. It’s symbolized by Shiva and Shakti’s dance, the ouroboros snake that eats its tail, the cycle of life and death, the yin and yang, and the primordial void that is both everything and nothing at the same time.

When we give ourselves over to inner work, we’re on a quest to embrace the paradox of existence. We’re on a quest to walk in the liminal spaces, to be willing to both die and be reborn at any moment, and to step into all that we can become. We’re on a journey to face our most gruesome shadows, to open to our most Divine Light, and to experience Wholeness.

To put it simply, it’s a hell of a ride!

And understandably, people fear that. It’s much easier to live a mediocre existence. It’s much easier to walk the path others have paved before us. It’s much easier to point the finger at others and neglect taking self-responsibility.

Walking the path less traveled is much more difficult, much less comfortable, and much more demanding. And most people are NOT ready or willing to make that choice.

Yes, mediocrity and complacency provide a morsel of comfort, but it’s this comfort that ironically leads to emptiness, soul loss, and the complete deprivation of anything truly real, truly worth living for.

In essence, the path of mediocrity and complacency = death.

The path of challenge = life.

Now, there are ways of making the tumultuous path that is inner work more bearable. Connecting with your deeper source of power, your inner free spirit, and your wild Wolf essence, is the first way.

When you’re able to follow your instinct and intuition, see clearly, make wise choices, and protect yourself from those who seek to prey on you, the path becomes more clear.

Read: The Dangers of Lacking Spiritual Discernment »

There are many other ways to empower your inner work path that are too numerous for this article. But the point here is that your inner work doesn’t have to be a terrible ordeal. Remember that no matter how painful it feels, “the phoenix always emerges from the flames.” In other words, no matter how bad things get, take comfort in knowing that the pain is a catalyst for deep spiritual transformation.

Finally, I want you to understand that the very nature of the ego means it will always be against inner work. It is your Soul that drives you towards inner work, so you’d do well to learn how to distinguish between the voice of fear (the ego) and the voice of your intuition (the Soul).

Read: How to Trust Your Intuition »

3 Profound Inner Work Pathways

There are many inner work pathways in existence right now and I don’t profess to know all of them. I can only share with you those I’ve tried as well as those that have legitimately worked – meaning I know for certain that they generate deep and long-lasting change.

Here are the top three inner work pathways I recommend on the spiritual awakening journey:

1. Self-Love

Self-love is one of the more gentle and approachable inner work paths. But that doesn’t dilute or negate its importance.

Self-love can lend itself to being shallow or unnecessarily self-indulgent (in the wrong hands), but with the right training, self-love can go bone-deep and genuinely transform you at a core level.

For those starting off on the inner work journey, I always recommend self-love as the best starting place. Without building a good relationship with yourself, the other forms of inner work listed below may be too intimidating, too difficult, or plain old detrimental for your wellbeing.

One of my favorite forms of self-love is mirror work. Mirror work quite simply involves using a mirror to clearly see your insecurities and fears. It also connects you with the deeper essence of yourself that is full of unconditional compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance (your Soul).

Recommended reading:

2. Inner Child Work

One level deeper is inner child work, a form of inner work that involves examining your childhood wounds, fears, and beliefs.

To differing degrees, we all carry a wounded inner child. Our job as adults is to reconnect with this childlike part of ourselves, excavate old limiting childhood beliefs/fears, and integrate this delicate part of ourselves back into our personality structure.

Your inner child is a source of tremendous creativity, joy, spontaneity, love, and wisdom. However, at the same time, your inner child can be a source of illogical obsessions, unshakable fears, neurosis, self-sabotaging behaviors, and limiting self-beliefs.

Inner child work can rile up a lot of unfinished business. If you had an abusive childhood, you may feel a sense of disgust or looming fear towards this work (many do) or even toward your inner child. But as one who had a traumatizing childhood and who has done a lot of inner child work, I can tell you it’s absolutely worth all of the pain, tears, and anger. You need to purge that pain and not let it control you!

Recommended resources:

3. Shadow Work

At the deepest level of the inner work process is shadow work. This form of inner work is the most complex, elusive, and intimidating of all. With shadow work, we are literally exploring the darkest places of our psyches that we deliberately suppress, deny, and disown each and every day.

We all know what lurks in the shadows. (Yes, the spine-chilling stuff of nightmares, and also the heartbreaking stuff of tragedies.)

Shadow work is the practice of exploring your inner demons. Within your shadow lurks everything that has been outlawed, deemed ‘taboo,’ ‘bad,’ ugly, and unacceptable by your parents and society. Your shadow self contains all that you are secretly ashamed about and disgusted by within yourself.

Before attempting shadow work it is absolutely imperative that you practice self-love. You MUST have stable and healthy self-esteem before doing shadow work. Why you may wonder? Shadow work can easily make you feel a thousand times worse about yourself if you already have poor self-worth. For this reason, shadow work is an advanced form of inner work that is not for beginners.

If you’ve had some experience with inner work, I recommend approaching shadow work slowly. Oracle and tarot cards are a great way to begin exploring your shadow as well as mindful journaling.

Recommended resources:

Finally, practices such as somatic bodywork, meditation, mindfulness exercises, self-inquiry, art therapy, dream analysis, pathworking, solitude, shamanic journeying, visualization, and introspection will all wonderfully supplement your inner work journey.

If you’re wondering where to start, try self-love first and read the recommended resources. If you’ve already attained a certain level of self-love, try inner child work. And if you’ve done both, then move on to shadow work.

Ultimately, all three forms of inner work melt and morph naturally into each other. Inner child work involves a certain level of shadow work, shadow work is a form of inner child work, and self-love is involved in all forms of inner work. I hope, however, these distinctions have made things clear for you.

Hopefully, you now have a clear path to follow that you can invest your time and energy into. And again, if you’re hesitant, let me say enthusiastically, YES it is worth it!! I would’ve never ever grown, evolved, and healed as profoundly as I have now if it weren’t for inner work. Thousands (perhaps more) across the world can testify to this reality within themselves as well.

If you don’t know what type of inner work you need to focus on, we’ve created a free inner work test for you. And if you want to go deeper into Soul work – the “sibling” to inner work – you can read more about that in my What is Soul Work? article.

About the author:

Aletheia Luna is a prolific psychospiritual writer, author, and spiritual mentor whose work has touched the lives of millions worldwide. As a survivor of fundamentalist religious abuse, her mission is to help others find love, strength, and inner light in even the darkest places. She is the author of hundreds of popular articles, as well as numerous books and journals on the topics of Self-LoveSpiritual Awakening, and more. See more of her work at lonerwolf.com.

This article, “What is Inner Work? (& Why Most People Are Terrified By it)” was originally published on lonerwolf.com, and reproduced with permission.

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